Don’t look for Dan Closson to be leading the pack on any vintage vehicle tours. His open-cab 1928 Chevy Capitol 1-ton farm truck is powered by a 4-cylinder engine and rolls along comfortably at speeds in the 30-35 mph range, which puts it at the tail end of most road trips.
And that’s just fine with him. Closson and this old truck go back a long way together — almost a half century.
"In 1963, my dad was president and manager of the Wallingford Elevator Company in Ashland and I was a sophomore in high school. He decided we needed a father-son project, so he put the word out that we were after an old car to work over," Closson said.
"There was an old guy on the edge of town who had this. The wood wheels were buried in the dirt, the whole thing was rust brown, and most of the metal of the cab was laying on top of the gas tank."
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His father, Merle Closson, bought the old Chevy grain truck for $40 and hauled it to a warehouse where they went to work on the engine. Amazingly, with a little carburetor work, some fresh gas and a battery, the old truck fired right up and ran.
"We had a good time driving it around rusty for a while," Closson recalled. It received some needed body work and fresh black paint and was eventually put to work, hauling dog food and water softener pellets to customers of his dad’s business. Closson’s mother, Nan, suggested adding the red and white checker board striping around the cab, signifying the Purina products it hauled, and the company name was painted on the low green sideboards of the cargo bed.
On the Fourth of July, the family would set up lawn chairs in the back of the truck to watch the town fireworks display.
Closson remembers his father skillfully shaping pine lumber on a Shop Smith to rebuild the wooden framework of the cab. He still owns that old woodworking machine, but doesn’t really want to replace the wood pieces that his father made with proper fitting reproduction wood. As a result, the restored doors of the truck are carefully stowed away in Closson’s attic. His wife, Shelley, seems to prefer the open touring effect anyway, he said.
When the Chevy was retired from work, Closson inherited it and brought it with him to Wichita in 1972. When Mike McNeil noticed him driving the old Chevy around, he flagged him down and urged him to join the local Vintage Chevrolet Club of America and begin touring in the truck.
That was when a more serious restoration of the Chevy began, including a complete overhaul of its 4-cylinder engine, with a set of aluminum pistons bumping its output up to a pavement-shredding 40 horsepower. The truck also was switched to a 12-volt electrical system, with a backup electric fuel pump for the vacuum-powered fuel system. A modern oil filter system was also installed.
"I’m not a purist. I want things to look nice, but be reliable," Closson said. To that end, he also relocated the gas tank to the bed of the truck so he could install a Model A Ford seat in the cab, which sits 5 inches lower than the original seat. "That seat had my head up in the rafters," said Closson, who stands 6-foot-4, and had to drive with his head cocked to one side as the truck was originally set up.
Many farmers either removed the doors from their old trucks or ordered them without doors, as they just got in the way, he said.
Closson still often drives with one foot braced against a rubber pad on the front fender, as leg room is at a premium in the small cab. "It provides a little bit of air conditioning with the wind blowing up my pant leg," he chuckled.
The gas tank is accessed through an old tool box that Closson remembers sitting in the basement of the family home in Ashland. The inside of the lid still bears the dart board bullseye he drew on it when he was 12, and plenty of holes left by the darts.
"I guess I really wasn’t any good at darts," he said.
Another upgrade is the 8-foot green patio umbrella that Closson can set up in the right rear corner of the bed to provide shade for fellow tourers at rest stops.
"Guys like to hang out and lean against the grain bed while they drink a can of pop," he said.
The Clossons are also members of the Wichita chapter of the Horseless Carriage Club, which also stages tours around the region. The Chevy 1-ton is usually trailered to the more distant tour locations, but is then driven up to 150 miles on daily sightseeing expeditions.
"It’s been a good old truck and it’s brought our family a lot of fun," Closson said. "When I’m finished with it, I hope my family will continue to appreciate the early design of this antique as much as we have."